Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. -Robert Brault
The night she came in 1997, I was surprisingly unprepared. Lying on the carpet in our small Lewisville, TX apartment watching SportsCenter around midnight, the moment of truth caught me off guard. It was Thursday Aug. 28, and Julie had gone to bed, now 9-months pregnant with Emily, who had stubbornly refused to flip from her breach position.
In 5 days, Julie had a scheduled C-section, and I had a morning surgery the next day to repair the hip of a 9-year-old girl with a tumor threatening to cause a fracture if left untreated. I had finally settled into the flow of my new orthopedic surgery practice in Lewisville/Flower Mound, having finished a residency in Galveston that June. Adding stress to our transition, in early August a copperhead snake bit my left hand in the woods near Tyler, TX. This led to emergency surgery for compartment syndrome, followed by complications due to an immune reaction from the pit viper antivenom I was given. I had 4 ugly new scars and was sporting a moon face from 3 weeks of high-dose steroids. My first month of private practice at Orthopedic Associates had gotten off to a slow and uncertain start.
Julie’s water broke that Thursday night, triggering a mad dash to the hospital, where monitoring of Emily’s heart rate raised concerns, and Julie had to have her C-section right away.
I remember being very calm in the O.R., a second home for me, but also awed as I watched the miracle from over the drapes, standing beside Julie’s waiting face. Emily’s head was the last thing delivered, and not without a struggle. Her introduction to the outside world looked quite painful, and she validated that impression immediately. Though I had delivered a dozen or so babies in med school, and seen many more being born, I can honestly say I had never heard one scream so loudly. Emily seemed genuinely hurt, both physically and emotionally, and she made certain everyone within earshot got the message.
I did not care for her to be cleaned up first. I wanted to be with her, and since I had a certain familiarity with the surroundings and she was our baby, I just went and picked her up. I started kissing her, talking to her, and calming her. She warmed under the light, got over the pain, and settled. Love flooded my heart and has never left it.
Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years…I know they went by after that night. I remember moments that are vivid, lovely and brilliant. She was joined by a strong, Will-full, kind, loving boy who came on another late night under similar circumstances (we learned so little from the first time around and got caught off guard then too!). Those measures of time were held in hugs, vacations, holidays, church worship services, swimming pool evenings, Will’s soccer games, neighborhood walks, and countless other joys. They were gathered up and spent, and were of great worth. They were not wasted, but they are also not in the bank somewhere, waiting for some better opportunity to use them. They are now gone, like the vigorous and mysterious winds that blow down the escarpment nightly, then disappear by morning.
Emily left for college about 5 months ago. Thank God we have Will for another year and change. There are echoes now, everywhere I look, but they are not all painful. Some, like her empty room and the childhood crafts I find in my dresser drawer, do provoke melancholy. But others, such as the banner of photos above that she sent me just the other day from Stanford, send my heart soaring at the ever-renewing hope of the life that is still ahead of all of us, and especially those who know where Home is.
You see, my once-baby Emily sprouted to 13 by the time of that first picture, stood full of her own love, and welcomed little Mary G on her first day at Naomi’s Village in July 2011. Mary had been born in grave danger in March, weighing a mere 1.8 pounds and coming 3-months premature. Her frightened mother snuck away early from Kijabe Hospital, certain her frail baby was going to die. A team of God’s people fell in love with tiny Mary, put their love into action, and willed that she thrive through prayer and the persevering application of proper care. They were specialized doctors, nurses, therapists, and social workers that did not bother about position, time, or obstacles. Mary was a vulnerable human being to them, made in the image of God, and for those of us who were there on the day they delivered her to Naomi’s Village, there was no missing their love for her. This entourage for the baby princess wanted to be sure that we intended to do the same for their little Mary, before they left her at NV. And starting with Emily, who was the first to hold her, we have all done just that.
We snapped that third photo of Emily and her precious sister Mary over Christmas break last month. In 2 months, Mary will turn 5. Emily is now an adult at 18, at least by one definition of the word. She told me she feels bittersweet that these little ones are growing up so fast, and she is now gone from Africa and missing it. I nodded at the irony, then swallowed the lump in my throat and put her on a plane to California a week later.
I have wanted Emily and Will to be unafraid of loving people like Mary with their whole hearts, in spite of knowing that they cannot remain with them, because that is the way things will often be. We cannot hold on to time, people, or places forever. God has not called us to certainty, to control, to safety, but to faith as we live and love others. That is dangerous, a bit emotionally risky, and leaves us with a groaning in our spirit at times. Jesus lived this way – heart wide-open, tears mixed with blood, willing to die for love. There was no holding back with Him.
My eyes now scan those three images that document 4 years time and see that she got the message – “Give your love away freely!” I hope the echo of those photos remains in my heart, like a reward when I miss Emily. From what we have sensed in talking to her, she continues to be a source of genuine friendship and love to so many in her new life at college. I have watched Will learn to serve and love and can see the same in him.
I also believe Mary G will grow up, nurtured to love that way, despite her tiny start. I hope all 65 of our kids at Naomi’s Village and our team are learning to give and receive that kind of love. And I pray that if you are busy loving someone right now, you will feel less afraid about the cost to your own heart today, or on some future day when the goodbyes come, as they surely will. Because love gathers up in those we have loved, and leaves unmistakable ripples on the surface of time, and though that time will disappear, the ripples will surely not. They will live on, carried by flesh and blood, refusing to be crushed by darkening currents of cynicism and hopelessness all around.
By Bob Mendonsa